It’s hard to imagine the noise of a rumbling exhaust and angry V8 could ever get old. But, with the passing of time, the lure of a meaty V8 in a large sedan has passed Australians.
Sure, it’s sad that we’re going to lose local manufacturing, but it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate one last blast in what will arguably be known as Australia’s best bang-for-buck car – the 2017 Holden Commodore SS-V Redline.
What you’re looking at here is a car designed by enthusiasts. I had the lucky opportunity to spend time with Holden’s VFII engineering team last year and there wasn’t one person in the team that wasn’t thrilled to be working on this product.
It isn’t just the V8 rumble that makes this thing such a good car, though. The design still stands the test of time, benefitting from a new front-end design, bonnet vents, better brakes, clear tail-lights and a brand-new heart, in the form of a naturally aspirated LS3 engine.
Crack the driver’s door open and you’ll spot a cavernous cabin with race inspired elements like body-hugging seats, a chunky sport steering wheel and a stumpy short-throw gear shifter.
The driving position is excellent thanks to a low seating position and great visibility out the front, sides and rear. The only letdown is the tiny wing mirrors that don’t have any curvature, which means their small surface area makes it difficult to see traffic outside of the small frame.
Cleverly, Holden made blind-spot monitoring standard across the Commodore range, which means any cars that enter your blind spot are easily identified.
A head-up display not only includes speed and navigation information, a press of a button brings up a tachometer to help with optimum gear shift times – this is handy when you’re on a race track and can’t take your eyes off the road.
In terms of infotainment, the VFII Commodore still uses Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, which consists of an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen and basic functionality such as satellite navigation and climate controls. It misses out on things like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and DAB+ digital radio.
A nine-speaker sound system pumps out a great sound, with streaming via USB, auxiliary input, Bluetooth, Pandora or Stitcher. The system is also capable of pushing through Siri commands with a long press of the voice command button, along with the equivalent Android function.
Starting from $54,990 plus on-road costs for the six-speed manual SS-V Redline tested here, there isn’t a European product that comes close to matching it in terms of bang-for-buck.
The second row is designed for burly Aussies, with three adults comfortably fitting side-by-side. Access to the boot is only via a ski port, with the second-row seat back unable to fold flat. ISOFIX points also make it an easy access and restraint area for small kids. Boot cargo capacity comes in at a whopping 495 litres.
Unlike the entry-level SS Commodore, the SS-V Redline sits on wider tyres at the rear and features bigger and more powerful brakes capable of better heat dissipation and resistance. The front tyres are 245mm wide with 19-inch alloy wheels, while the rear is a wider 275mm wide set with 19-inch alloy wheels.
An optional 20-inch wheel can be fitted to the car for an extra $1500, which represents great value.
Under the bonnet is a monster engine that suits this car down to a tee. Measuring 6.2 litres in capacity, the LS3 engine produces a hearty 304kW of power and a thumping 570Nm of torque. While you can option a six-speed automatic gearbox, the most visceral experience is had courtesy of this six-speed manual.
Stopping the SS-V Redline is a set of Brembo brakes on all four corners. They measure 355mm at the front and feature four-piston callipers front and rear.
It’s hard not to smile each time you take off from a standing start. A bi-modal exhaust ensures that even at low speeds there is adequate noise before two baffles open to really make the car heard.
A resonator located under the bonnet pipes in extra engine noise into the cabin, with a button on the infotainment screen capable of switching the system off at any given point. An additional resonator called the Baillie Tip (named after the engineer that designed it, but sadly who passed away during the vehicle development program) sits within the exhaust housing to pump extra noise into the cabin under hard acceleration.
It doesn’t take much to provoke this epic mix of noise, simply mash the throttle in any gear and the LS3 begins bellowing a noise that can only be described as utterly stupid. It sounds like an old school V8 muscle car, mixed with a bit of modern noise engineering. None of it is fake and it aims to really show how impressive this naturally aspirated V8 engine sounds.
Also unlike the entry-level SS Commodore, the SS-V Redline uses FE3 suspension, which is a firmer damping and rebound setup that helps the car sit flatter through corners. While it is firmer, the ride is still compliant enough for day-to-day driving.
Once James was done with the car, we had the opportunity to join David Zalstein at Sandown for a few laps of the circuit to see how well such a big car would hold up.
Much to our surprise, it put in a stellar effort. Hitting over 200km/h on the front straight, it wasn’t too bothered with a firm battering of brakes before turning in to turn one.
Despite using an electrically-assisted steering rack, there is plenty of feel through the wheel as the car changes direction both at high and low speeds.
Even more impressive is the stability control calibration, which also has a performance mode that frees up the rear end. It allows the back end to get seriously sideways before it steps in to save the day. It makes a track day even more enjoyable thanks to the hero status it affords regular drivers.
Switch it all the way off and the SS-V Redline performs some pretty epic billowing smoke drifts. It’s so predictable that a light tap of the throttle starts things off, while a belting of the throttle thereafter produces an impressive smoke show. The limited slip differential can be thanked for such an easy feat.
We managed a full three laps before the brakes began fading. While Sandown Raceway isn’t a big track, it has two deep braking zones that assault brakes on a heavy car. It only took a cooldown lap before we could get back on the throttle and hit it again.
In terms of straight line acceleration, a 0-100km/h dash is dispatched within 4.9 seconds. Using the VBox we managed to clock a respectable 5.1 seconds to 100km/h and 13.4 seconds over a quarter mile.
If you’re looking for an excuse to buy a car that will make you grin every single time you drive it, now’s the time. With production wrapping up in October 2017, it will be the last time you can buy a new V8-powered Aussie sedan.
Lucky enough to be that guy? My hat comes off for you. Enjoy driving a car built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. It’s family enough to please your other half, while sporty enough to give you daily thrills without fail.
Click the photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.